RACE 1: GET SET (#5)
This optional claimer features the return of a very promising debut winner from last season. Took Charge won what turned out to be one of the fastest 2-year-old maiden heats from the Belmont spring/summer meet last year, earning a 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure while stopping the clock in 57 1/5 seconds for the 5-furlong distance. That race has since been flattered by runner-up Three Technique, who would go on to impressively break his maiden at Saratoga and finish second in Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones as a 3-year-old. Yet Took Charge was sent to the sidelines after that race and now returns many months later for a barn that isn’t known for great success off layoffs. If he steps forward at all he’s going to be tough to beat, but you have to be a little concerned about whether he’s still that same horse. The obvious alternative is Hopeful Treasure, whose mid-Atlantic form is solid enough. He was flattered when the horse who beat him last time returned to finished third in the Jimmy Winkfield, but I think he looks a little better on paper than he actually is. I want to find an alternative to these, so my top pick is the recent maiden winner Get Set. I know this horse looks a little slow, but I think he fits very well here from a class perspective. He’s been facing nothing but stakes horses in many of those Parx maiden events. It’s not like he was beaten so many lengths by graded stakes types Independence Hall, Mischevious Alex, or Monday Morning Qb. It’s true that he wasn’t meeting much when he finally broke his maiden last time, but he did it the right way in the slop and his fast track races are generally better than that. It doesn’t hurt to get Eric Cancel aboard, and he may get some pace to close into.
RACE 2: DANNY CALIFORNIA (#3)
Rudy Rodriguez holds a strong hand in this race, sending out impressive recent claiming winner Kumar as well as the improved Traveling. Kumar will beat this field if he runs back to his last TimeformUS Speed Figure of 112, but I think there are some reasons to be skeptical about his chances to replicate that effort. He got to control the pace going a one-turn mile last time, and now he has to stretch out to two turns in a race that features other speed types. The Pace Projector is predicting that he will have to rate off of Super Silver and Travelling, and he hasn’t been quite as effective from off the pace. That pacesetting duo make plenty of sense as contenders in this spot. Super Silver has had many chances to break through this level and tends to settle for minor awards, but he keeps earning speed figures that suggest he’s good enough to win. Travelling has come alive for Rudy Rodriguez going a one-turn mile, but he’s been successful going two turns in the past. I’m using all of these, but my top pick is Danny California. He obviously needs to rebound after finishing 9 lengths behind Travelling when they last met at this level. However, Danny California may have been a bit too close to the pace that day. He was travelling well in the bridle early, but he never was able to make that long sustained run that he produces when ridden as a closer. He stayed on well to close for second going this distance two back when he ran by Super Silver, who got a perfect trip, in the late stages. A repeat of that performance, or even his prior effort against Joe’s Smokin Gun, would make him really tough for this field to handle.
RACE 7: NICKY SCISSORS (#1)
I’m not saying anything clever in pointing out that Ice Princess is the most likely winner of this race. She’s been good right from the start, destroying an off-the-turf field by a dozen lengths in her debut. They got a little ambitious in trying the Grade 1 Frizette with her after that, but she actually gave a solid account of herself, improving to finish a decent fourth. Danny Gargan gave her some time off after that and she got right back on track when dropped in against state-bred company last time, overcoming a slow start to loop the field and win for fun. That last-out 100 TimeformUS Speed Figure is significantly faster than her rivals have run, so she’s a deserving short price off that effort. It also helps that three of the four rivals she faces today finished behind her last time. However, there is one new face in here who intrigues me. Nicky Scissors has run much slower than Ice Princess in her two starts, but I think there are some reasons to be optimistic that she can do better. Jason Servis doesn’t have great statistics with debut runners and she clearly needed that start. She took a big step forward second time out, drawing off to win by over 10 lengths. While she did get a very favorable pace setup that day, I still liked the way she finished off that affair, galloping out with great energy into the clubhouse turn. Furthermore, that race may be a bit stronger than the speed figures indicate, as a number of runners have already returned to improve. She has to stretch out to the mile for the first time, but Jason Servis is 7 for 12 (58%, $3.08 ROI) with last-out maiden winners going from sprints to route on dirt over the past 5 years.